Last night my family and I saw the new Star Wars film, The Last Jedi. I thought it was a good addition to the franchise and enjoyed the film. Reflecting on one of my favorite fantasy worlds, the theology of Star Wars began to emerge. Now before you get concerned, there are NO spoilers ahead.
Almost everyone on earth has heard of Star Wars at least tangentially. People from numerous countries were shown a silhouette of Darth Vader and recognized the character immediately. Star Wars is modern mythology, a story of such magnitude and universal appeal that it transcends cultural barriers and touches the heart of humanity.
But what should Christians do with the themes of the film? How do we respond to the theology of Star Wars?
In this post I’d like to deal with some major themes brought out in all the films and relate them back to Christian thinking so we can know how to respond and how to parse the elements presented throughout the film series.
#1 GOOD v. EVIL
Nothing makes Star Wars more universally accepted than its primary theme of good vs. evil. From the very first film (chronologically), we are introduced to a massive, seemingly all-powerful Empire of pure evil. Facing down this Goliath are our heroes, the weak and underfunded Davids of the story. Every major epic in human history deals with this theme.
Religiously speaking, this theme winds its way through every major religion on earth. Because good and evil inescapably exist in human reality, all religions handle this theme in some way. To save space, I do not wish to examine other religions views here, only to focus on what Christianity actually teaches on the topic.
In Star Wars the “force” is the energy that binds the universe together and is split into the “Dark”, i.e. evil, side and the “Light”, i.e. good, side. Dark and light are two sides of the same coin, inextricably linked together for all time. Balancing the dark and light sides of the force is actually a powerful underlying theme of all the films thus far. Hinduism and Buddhism along with several animistic religions see good and evil this way.
Christianity views good and evil quite differently. Indeed, it is the only world religion to deviate from the view of good and evil as two equal yet oppositional forces we must balance between. Rather than seeing good and evil as two equal forces, Christianity describes a God who is purely good with no darkness or evil within Him at all. God, in the Christian view, is incapable of evil. Evil exists only where God’s creation has deviated from God’s pure goodness by exercising its free will.
Therefore, in the Christian view good and evil are not equal opposing forces. Good is the driving force of the universe encapsulated within the beauty and wonder of God Himself, but available to His created beings through submission to Him and His will. Evil is the absence of good, occuring when we abandon God in favor of ourselves and make decisions apart from His light.
#2 UNIVERSAL POWER
The force in Star Wars is everywhere. While good and evil are inherently intertwined into the force, the force itself is ambiguous. The force drives and powers all living things, even existing in inanimate objects like rocks, but it is neither good nor evil. It is both. At its heart this relativizes good and evil making ethical implications of our actions dependent on circumstances and the whims of the force.
Christianity takes a very different stance. In one sense, we do see an all-powerful force filling the universe and holding all things together. We call this force God because the Bible says that He holds all things together by the power of His Word. Jesus, the son of God, is described as in all things, through all things, and the creator of all things. Sounds quite a bit like the force with one major exception discussed in point one. In Christianity God and Jesus are purely good with no darkness in them at all.
For the Christian, while we recognize the universal power holding all things together, we deny the duality of that power, recognizing the teaching of the Word that God is all good and pure light. It is important that we see God as the universal power holding all things together because it helps us relate to all the other world religions and begin a conversation with them about Jesus. Then we can draw the distinctives that separate Christianity from all other belief systems.
#3 EVIL DOMINATES
Star Wars would be pretty boring if the light side of the force dominated things. After all, there would be no conflict at that point, and any writer worth their salt knows that conflict is central to great storytelling. Modern news outlets tend to appeal to this same false narrative of the universe. By focusing on the evil in things, we have great and compelling stories that get people to sit up and listen, but the reality is quite different.
We cannot ignore evil, but we must not offer it more credit than it’s due. Star Wars has almost all-powerful evil forces constantly dominating the galaxy for dramatic effect and to give our heroes something to fight against. In reality here on earth, evil is not the dominant force because God’s divine light shines through creation and through His people and His Word.
Just consider that the average murder rate on earth, according to a recent calculation, is around 7.5 people per 100,000. This means 999,992.5 people are not murdered each year. World hunger rates and poverty rates have steadily dropped over the past three decades. We have more cures for sickness today than at any point in human history. Of all the eras in history we could live, this is the best one for almost every inhabitant of earth.
Do not mistake my thinking here. We still have myriad issues. We still face evil on a daily basis here on earth, and we will until Christ establishes His kingdom here on earth permanently. But evil is not a monolithic, all-powerful force. Good is. God is the all-powerful force in the universe and He contains no darkness. So we should not fear evil, for it is simply the momentary shadow eclipsing the immovable, immutable, eternal being shining upon us all.
Star Wars is an amazing world that has produced incredible films appealing to people all over earth. I love it. It’s easy to love because its central themes are universal. But as Christians we must know where and how we differ from the picture of reality painted by those living outside the pure light of Christ. By knowing where we deviate from the false narrative presented by those still living in the shadow of darkness, we will know where to aim the light to pierce through and shine hope and love.